Tourism in Pakistan : An Untapped Potential


Tourism has approximatly 10.5 per cent share in Global GDP. It contributes 3.5 per cent of total GDP of Asia. Despite huge potential, Pakistan has very weak tourism industry. The snow-covered Himalayas, lush green valleys, charismatic lakes and meadows, diverse cultures and historical buildings present tremendous opportunities for tourism industry. Sadly, share of the tourism sector in Pakistan’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is 2.8 per cent, low as compared to the regional average. In terms to total receipts from tourists, Pakistan’s share is less than 1 percent as compared to India’s share of 69 per cent, Sri Lanka’s 10 per cent and Maldives’s 7 per cent. One of the main reasons of such a low contribution is due to security situation that has been worse in previous few decades. Recently, tourism industry has shown positive trends. According to Gallup 2019, 110 per cent growth has been observed in tourism sector. Signs of improvement in tourism industry are due to improved security situation and greater focus of government on tourism.
Tourism has multiple advantages. Tourism is enormous binding force besides economic potential. When locals visit tourists’ resorts in different parts of country, they come to know each other. Differences among people of different regions decrease and national integration prevails. If people from Balochistan will visit Northern areas then they will come to know about hospitality and good will of people. If Punjabis visit Baluchistan, they will realize the sense of deprivation, backwardness and poverty in Balochistan and may become advocates of neglected Balochs. Such inter-province journeys can pave way for national unity and integration. Another benefit of tourism could be visits to Pakistan by foreign tourists that would bring soft image to Pakistan. It is exponentially more difficult to unfairly demonise or isolate a state after it has been opened for foreign tourists. Tourists are ambassadors and messengers of love, cooperation and mutual respect. They take with themselves beautiful memories of the travelled destinations. Tourism is, therefore, a massive soft power which can portray positive image of Pakistan.
Tourism brings forth soft aspects of life among tourists. When people visit serene and pristine natural sites, they experience joys of natural beauty which in turn inculcate soft feelings. Tourism can be helpful in promoting peace among common people, especially in a country like Pakistan, which has experienced religious extremism and conservatism for decades. Extremism and conservatism thrive in the atmosphere of isolation. Sharing same experiences and knowing each other promote love, moderation and tolerance. Tourism brings together people of different backgrounds and provides opportunities to know each other. It can thus create atmosphere of openness and acceptance. It can build bridges between different communities and nations.
Pakistan has huge tourism potential. In the first place, Pakistan is home to natural scenic beauties. Northern areas, Gilgit Biltistan and Azad Kashmir are natral paradises on Earth. World does recognizes the natural beauty of  Pakistan. Forbes ranked Pakistan amongst the ”top ten coolest places to visit in 2019”. British Backpackers Society (BBS) declared Pakistan as the world’s third highest potential adventure destination for the 2020. American Travel Magazine Condè Nast, one of the world’s best travel magazine, has listed Pakistan as one of the top tourist destinations for 2020.
Pakistan is home to center of different religions and civilizations. Nankana, Faisalabad is birth place of Baba Guru Nanak, founding father of Sikhism. Sikhs from various parts of the world, particularly from India, visit birth place of Guru Nanak every year. Likewise, Gurdwara  Darbar Sb Kartarpur, Narowal is another holiest site of Sikhism where Baba Guru Nanak spent last years of his life till death. Gurdwara Punja Sahib, Haan Abdal is considered holy place  as the handprint of baba Guru Nanak is believed to be printed on a stone in Gurdwara. Pakistan’s Ghandhara region comprising Mardan, Taxila and Swat holds a special place for Bhuddists. Bhuddist sites exit in Punjab and KPK. Taxila has been the center of Ghandhara civilization which later became foothold of Bhuddism. Taxila museum contains antiques of Ghandhara art. Takht bhai, Mardan is ancient Bhuddist monastery. Batkara, Swat has ancient Bhuddist Stupa. All these holy sites are great attraction for Bhuddist pilgrims. There are many hindu temples spread across country. Katas Raj Temple , Chakwal is of great religious significance for Hindus. according to Hindu sources, pool located in Katas Raj Temple is made up of Shiva’s tears. Mohenjodaro (Sindh) and Harrapa (Sahiwal) are remains of great Indus civilization. Moreover, there are Sufi Shrines spread across country. Tombs of Sultan Bahu in Jhang, Khawja Ghulam Farid in Pakpattan, Baba Bhullay Shah in Kasur, Warish Shah in Jandian sher Wala, Bari Imam in Islamabad , Syed Ali Hajjveri alias Data Sb in Lahore and many other sufi shrine attract devotees from Pakistan and abroad.
There are historical monuments of Mughal and British era. Badshahi Mosque , Red Fort, Shalamar Bagh,Masjid Wazir Khan, Jahangir Tomb, Rohtas Fort and other many Mughal architectural feats are of immense historical importance. In addition, there are historical places of British era spread across the country.  Under British rule, Sir Ganga Ram  designed and built the General Post Office, Lahore Museum, Aitchison College, Mayo School of Arts (NCA), Ganga Ram Hospital, Lahore College for Women, Hailey College of Commerce, Ravi Road House for the Disabled, the Ganga Ram Trust Building on Shahrah-e-Quaid-e-Azam, and the many such other buildings. Other important British buildings include the High Court, the Government College University, St. Anthony’s College, Montgomery Hall, Tollinton Market, the University of the Punjab (Old Campus) and the Provincial Assembly
Moreover, diverse cultures add beautiful colours to the beauty of Pakistan. Each province has its own language, dressing, rituals and other cultural charateristics. Each region has its own individuality and peculiarity.
Despite being culturally rich, naturally amazing and historically important, Pakistan has worst tourist industry in world. One of the main reason is terrorism. Terrorist attacks on foreigners earned bad name for tourism. Murder of  thirteen foreign climbers in Gilgist Biltistan in 2013 was horrific incident. Sri Lankan Cricket Team was attacked in 2019 in Lahore. All such incidents tarnished the image of Pakistan.
Secondly, there are issues of governance and law and order. The situation of  law and order in Pakistan has been in question for previous few decades. People hesitate to visit various tourist destinations in fear of becoming victim of the bad governance. In the past, many Punjabis have been killed in Balochistan. There is sense of insecurity among various parts of the country.
Poor infrastructure presents another stumbling block to tourism. Pakistan stands at 121 on Travel and Tourism Competitive Index (TTCI), whereas all neighbouring countries are way above Pakistan. India is ranked 34th on this index. One of the major reason is that roads are in derelict condition. Over the years, several accidents have occurred on roads, leading to tourist destinations. Therefore, people feel reluctant to travel to different tourist resorts.
Moreover, tourist destinations lack basic facilities. Power supply continues to be erratic. Standard hotels are infrequent. Most of restaurants are in shabby condition. Many areas lack internet access, which is fundamental requirement. There is poor connectivity through air and road. Tour guides lack basic training. Boarding and lodging facilities are few and far between. Prices of commodities are expensive and beyond the reach of middle class.
Tourism became provincial subject after 18th amendment. Forming tourism policy is responsibility of provinces. Unfortunately, until now no province has developed comprehensive tourism policy. Moreover, there is lack of coordination among center and provinces. The government has established National Tourism Coordination Board (NTCB) to coordinate with provincial, national and international organizations dealing with tourism sector.
Visa complexity is yet another bottleneck for foreign tourists. Initially there was need of No Objection Certificate (NOC) for certain tourist destinations. Now government has abolished the NOC condition for AJK, Gilgit Biltistan and Chitral. Moreover, government has decided to provide e-visa facility to 175 countries and visa on arrival to 50 countries. This will remove many bureaucratic and procedural complexities involved in visa processing.
Tourism development lies in improving security situation, maintaining law and order and facilitating tourists. CPEC offers enormous infrastructure development opportunities. It will help to improve road network and make travelling easy. Government should leave no stone unturned to portray positive image of Pakistan. On Henley Passport Index, Pakistan is fourth worst country. V loggers and bloggers from all over the world should be given opportunities to visit different parts of Pakistan. Dedicated website should be developed to highlight scenic beauty  and eye-catchng tourist resorts of Pakistan. Each city should have its online map of historical places.  Uninterrupted electric supply, provision of internet facility, standard hotels and hygiene restaurants can earn confidence of many tourists. There should be concessions on import of hotel machinery. Institutes should be developed to train and develop human resource for tourism services.  Tourism ministry should develop a new website that would highlight tourist attractions. It would have pictures, videos, information about tourist spots, cultural, archaeo­logical and historical sites etc. with the purpose to gain attraction of tourists.
Tourism ministry should prepare a team of young professionals and arrange their visit to major tourist attractions. Batu Caves in Malaysia, Cuchy Tunnels in Vietnam, Crocodile Park in Thailand and other such destinations attract millions of people. Young professionals can learn a lot by visiting these places and same can be implemented in Pakistan.
Coronavirus pandemic is  challenge for tourism sector. According to World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), drop in international travel could lead to loss of approximately 1 trillion dollars and 100 millions tourism jobs. It has equally affected Pakistan’s tourism sector. Many locals have gone jobless due to lack of tourism in tourist resorts. Government has opened the tourism sector with travel advisory guides. But people are not willing to travel to major tourist attractions of world. Government should ensure strict compliance of system operating procedures (SOPs) and encourage people to visit their favourite destinations.
To conclude, future of tourism is bright. Improved security situation and government’s focus can initiate new era in tourism sector. China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will suffice the road infrastructure to some extent. Cross-provinces travels will become easier. Any how, there is lot to be done. Government should present positive, progressive and moderate Pakistan abroad. It should develop all basic facilities for tourists. Road and air travel should become easy, telecommunication accessible and stays safe. There is no denying the fact that Pakistan has tremendous potential to meet the global tourism average contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

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